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Canada's military exports

Ernie Regehr — April 1984

On March 8, the recently-formed Institute for the Peaceful Use of Technology (INPUT) staged a demonstration against the High- Technology Export Conference held that week in Ottawa.

The High- Technology Conference is sponsored by the Defense Programs Bureau. of the Department of External Affairs and has been held annually for the past 22 years. The conference is intended as a means of promoting increased Canadian high-technology industrial production and trade. However, since the defense industry provides a major market for high-technology developments, the conference provides a striking example. of Canadian involvement in the perpetuation of the arms race.

We asked Ernie Regehr, co-editor of Canada and the Nuclear Arms Race, and an established authority on Canadian military expenditures, to put the Ottawa conference in the context of the Canadian government’s attitude toward defense production and trade.

The federal Government should give Canadian aerospace companies a better chance at winning Canadian and foreign military supply contracts, says a recent report by a joint industry-labour advisory group. The report, issued last fall, even suggests that the industry’s survival depends upon the revitalization of defence development sharing programs with the United States and other allies.

115 Industry and government leaders in Canada have placed major emphasis on aerospace and electronics high-tech industries in their hopes for greater Canadian industrialization, and military production has traditionally played a major role in these industries. Part of the government’s contribution to the survival of these industries has been to organize high-tech export conferences and to support Canadian industries that wish to participate in overseas trade shows (such as the annual Paris Air Show). The High Technology Export Conference held in Ottawa during March was described as promoting “increased interest and participation by Canadian manufacturers in foreign defence and high-technology markets.”

Economic times may be tough, the argument seems to be, but at least there is an arms boom to exploit and, if we are aggressive enough, we may just manage a measure of militarized prosperity.

Canadian arms trade officials don’t much like the suggestion that they are “merchants of death” — in fact, they don’t even like to be described as “arms trade officials.” Their sensitivities aren’t entirely unjustified. Canada, as former Defence Minister Barney Danson used to say, makes. very little that “goes bang,” and no sector of Canadian industry has a primary dependence upon military production. The most heavily militarized Canadian industries, the aerospace and electronics industries, are about one-fifth to one-quarter dependent upon military sales.

On the other hand, those same government. officials insist that it is impossible to have a competitive high-tech industry without having a firm hand in military production – and they, together with public subsidy programs, such as the Defence Industry Productivity Program, are working hard at increasing Canadian military production in the interests of Canadian prosperity.

This has meant that Canada participates industrially in the full range of weapons that are now deployed in the escalating international arms race – that includes participation in the production of components for strategic nuclear weapons, intermediate-range nuclear weapons, tactical nuclear weapons, conventional weapons sold to the Third World and conventional weapons used by major powers for military intervention in the Third World.

The MX missile, the cruise missile, tactical missiles and nuclear submarines all have the benefit of Canadian components. While the Canadian government chooses not to divulge the amounts and destinations of Canadian military commodities to the Third World, a fair estimate is that about 10% of total exports go to the Third World, (In the 1970s, almost 20% went to the Third World, and since then officials have informally conceded that 10% is a reasonable rule of thumb for current sales).

Some Canadian military commodities go directly to countries in the Third World, while others go to the arms industries of other countries and from there enter the armed services of the Third World.

In addition, Canada is supplying the US rapid deployment force, designed to give the US enhanced capacity for military intervention, with armoured personnel carriers and components for other armoured vehicles and aircraft.

In the current economic climate, it is likely that the military proportion of Canadian aerospace and electronics exports is growing rather than declining. Civilian aerospace sales in particular have suffered in recent years, while military sales have grown rapidly. Total Canadian military exports have gone from $722 million in 1980 to about $1.5 billion in 1983. About 80% of these sales are in the aerospace and electronics sectors.

Canadian arms trade officials prefer to think of high-tech military production purely as high-tech production – to be promoted on the premise that Canada, with a manufacturing sector that is admitted to be weak, will benefit from high-tech sales whoever the customer may be. That may be so, but military commodities are also political commodities, and as such communicate political and moral approval of the military objectives of the recipient. At the very least this should require full public disclosure of all Canadian military sales and an end to military export promotion as a purely commercial activity.